The general public holds many misconceptions pertaining to the close protection officer and the industry as a whole. For instance, some people scorn protective agents due to mistakes or oversights made by a small percentage of the workforce.
Basing their assumptions on what they have seen or heard in movies or on TV, the general public usually lacks an understanding of the complexities of the job of a close protection officer. Thus, this article clarifies how CPOs help protect high-net-worth individuals, CEOs, families and other notable persons.
The Changing Threat Landscape
In the age of COVID-19, when many countries are enforcing lockdowns, executives were not required to be present in the office. Thereby, their exposure to threat during commutes underwent a decline.
Although COVID has altered the threat landscape to a certain degree, and for the better in terms of physical assaults, many western countries continue opening up, bringing the situation back to pre-COVID, but with some restrictions (such as face masks and disinfectants) and the return of attacks against high-ranking individuals.
According to one study, respondents, who were made up of senior security leaders, stated that almost half of all physical incidents could have been prevented if only cybersecurity and physical security intelligence were synced in a way to allow the sharing of information. This data points to a conclusion that is all too evident: security is often a confluence of cyber and physical protection.
Nevertheless, that is not to say that high-level executives face no threats any longer or that dangers exclusively lurk online. Conversely, it is true to assert that news of cyberattacks are dominating headlines, leading us to believe that enterprise leaders are as safe as ever. Although the former is accurate, many CEOs are upping their security budget nonetheless.
According to the above study, as many as 24% of security leaders confirmed that their CEO and/or their family members received threats and/or were harmed while travelling or when working from their private residence.
Selecting Small Teams
Fortunately, protective services have evolved to such high expertness that many business executives choose smaller, two-person or three-person teams. In fact, the advent of modern gear and improved tactics and procedures has proven invaluable, resulting in a review of the number of protective staff members. For example, instead of needing a team of 10+, CEOs can often now have the same level of protection with just two CPOs and security trained drivers, with the assistance of modern technology, communication devices and revised techniques.
Note: According to the Verizon 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report, phishing attacks have increased by 11 percent. Therefore, malicious actors are increasingly shifting to the online world, leaving many high-ranking individuals poorly aware of their immediate, physical surroundings.
A similar subpar security mindset has led to accidents like the pieing of Qantas Airways chief executive Alan Joyce during a public address. Unfortunately, many top echelon directors tend to disregard the necessity for upping their security.
On that note, a tried-and-true process that close protection officers use include:
- Anticipate – what could, would or might happen to jeopardise the place, person or thing receiving protection,
- Plan – the itinerary of the protectee, the means and method of protection provision, alternative plans and emergency contingencies,
- Prepare – by visiting and learning about the specific location or locations where protective services will be offered, including timings, exits and entrances, people, heating and air conditioning, facilities, parking, weather, etc. Essentially, this means conducting an “advance.”
Notwithstanding the importance of hard skills, a close protection officer follows these three steps to help ensure high-end security services.
Regulation, Training, and the Close Protection Officer
The negative reputation that afflicts most of the close protection field primarily stems from celebrity protection. This is primarily due to the nature of celebrities making a living off of being in the spotlight. This inherently brings often unwanted attention to the close protection officer or close protection team. Therein, some unqualified staff or those maintaining a particular “look” or “image” are often in charge of protecting the high-net-worth individual, singer, athlete, entertainer, etc.
Incidentally, the celebrities with such protective staff are extensively televised and reach the general population as the model of what it means to be a CPO.
Still, plenty of positive change has ensued over the years, including in 2021, when the close protection industry has made significant leaps to regulate the field of protective services, at least within the United States.
Similarly, the United Kingdom has regulated the provision of physical security services by requiring individuals to obtain a Security Industry Authority licence to work as security operatives. In fact, the UK licencing process entails five types of manned guarding licences:
- Close protection,
- Cash and valuables in transit,
- Door supervision,
- Public space surveillance, and
- Security guard.
Finally, depending on the jurisdiction, Australia has various licencing requirements for security personnel operating in its territory. Generally speaking, there are six security titles that individuals need to acquire through a lengthy process of certification, including:
- Unarmed guards,
- Crowd controllers,
- Guard dog holders,
- Monitoring centre operators, and
- Armed guards.
Within the Australian Qualifications Framework, Registered Training Organisations have the ability to offer certificate III in close protection operations. The qualification details are outlined within training.gov.au regulations and training programs.
In order to gain this certification, a close protection officer operating in Australia needs to complete 14 units of competency, divided into core and elective units, including but not restricted to:
- Managing conflict and security risks through negotiation,
- Determining and implementing response to a security risk situation,
- Carrying out vehicle inspection,
- Coordinating provision of quality security services to clients,
- Providing advanced first aid,
- Providing advanced resuscitation,
- Controlling persons using empty hand techniques,
- Planning provision of close protection services,
- Implementing close protection services,
- Maintaining work health and safety,
- Responding effectively to behaviours of concern,
- Gathering, organising and presenting security information and documentation,
- Implementing security procedures in order to protect critical infrastructure and public assets, and
- Applying safe car driving behaviours.
It is worth noting that being assessed and qualified does not always equate to being competent. Competency comes with ongoing experience and continued training. The above qualification should be seen as the minimum standard and a starting point for those without previous experience or close protection training in other government agencies.
How CPOs Plan For Success
The public face of the close protection industry features most evidently the following two elements: suits and sunglasses. However, far away from the public’s eye, large swaths of the CPO’s job responsibilities lie in pre-planning and planning arrangements.
To bring home the point, security expert Dale L. June speaks to the importance of this component in the role of a close protection officer:
“An advance man must plan for any eventuality! This means anticipating everything that could happen and plotting a course of action to respond. For a simple example, all carpeting and cables must be soundly taped down. Walkways must be inspected for cracks and loose stones that could cause the VIP to stumble or fall. In the extreme case, a protectee may be attacked or suffer a medical emergency.”
In addition to planning, the modern CPO is a proficiently trained and sophisticated protector. This person relies primarily on preventing trouble rather than responding ad hoc in a crisis.
Interestingly, according to a famous pyramidal structure that some security experts popularised, the close personal protection specialist ― i.e. close protection officer ― stands on top as the best-trained, educated professional. Next in line are:
- Bodyguards (limited training, one-person focused),
- Security officer (interacts with people and property, better trained than the security guard), and
- Security guard (protects property, limited training).
Yet, this nomenclature must not be the determining factor of whether high-ranking executives hire individuals with specific titles but serves more as orientation.
Last but not least, proficient CPOs carry with them a stature of dependability, demeanour and discretion that seeps into every aspect of their service ― including the relationship with the protectee or client.
Guns and Good Service
In conclusion, let us address weapons and good customer service in the close protection industry.
CPOs do not need to carry weapons in most cases, as their communication, de-escalation, and hand-to-hand combat skills may suffice, specifically in countries and regions where the carriage of weapons is prohibited.
According to Australia’s strict gun laws, a person must have a firearm licence to use or possess a gun. In line with government policies, “handguns used in the private security industry must be registered to a cash-in-transit or armed guard security business.” As such they are not permitted for use within close protection at this time.
Thus, HNWIs and CEOs travelling to Australia are best off hiring a local close protection officer or team. By doing so, they exponentially increase the security level in their surroundings and the immediate environment of their family and entourage.
In many cases, foreign CPOs travelling to Australia may have difficulties adapting to or upholding local regulations. This will significantly hinder their ability to provide prolific security services, thereby adversely impacting the protectee.
Similarly, high-profile individuals are increasingly seeking close protection services in Indonesia. In a country that some statistical offices label “moderately safe,” it is extremely difficult to obtain a gun permit, while some experts call the country “the most anti-gun nation in the world.” In fact, the Indonesian Police Force conducts thorough background checks and psychology tests for those wanting to obtain the permit to carry a gun.
However, unlike Australia, high-risk areas still exist in some parts of Indonesia, inevitably requiring the carriage of firearms. In this sense, executives travelling through or visiting Indonesia may need to hire protective escorts accompanied by local armed forces, as this is sometimes the only way to safely conduct business in this diverse Asian country.
Speaking of services, the ultimate goal of the close protection officer is to be responsible for the safety, health, well-being and life of a person or corporate entity. Making “best friends” with the client often proves disadvantageous in a professional setting. And so it does in close protection.
Accordingly, protectees expect the very best from their protection team. In fact, negligence, error, or omission have no place in the vocabulary or mindset of an experienced CPO. Ensuring that the protectee is healthy and comfortable while not even noticing the actual position of their protective staff members ― that is the ideal that many CPOs strive for.
Companies like Panoptic Solutions support individuals and organisations in enhancing productivity and peace of mind by offering unmatched close protection officer and bodyguard services.